The vast majority of us will have, at some point, had freeware games or applications installed on our systems. If you’ve played an online Java or Flash based game, you’ve used freeware. In a very real way the Internet itself is freeware, a massive collections of scripts, information, tools and resources that are, for the most part, totally free. But what is it that motivates so many people to put so much work into a project, and then release it totally free of charge? There are a few misconceptions about freeware that I would like to clear up.
1.) “Freeware programs are loaded with spy ware and Trojan horses” – not true. While it is true that some programs contain these types of malicious software, they are a vanishingly small percentage of the whole. The type of people who release programs like this are identical to spam mailers – criminal and beneath contempt. If you are worried about this then I suggest you only download software from large, well known freeware sites. These almost always check to ensure their programs are free of any malicious code.
2.) “Freeware only works for X amount of days, or is crippled in some way”. Again, not true. Programs that work in this way are classified as Shareware, and are designed so that if you like the programs function you can pay the author for a full version. Freeware is never crippled in any way, and comes with no charge whatsoever – although donations are always appreciated!
3.) “The only reason this is freeware is because no-one in their right mind would pay money for it”. This, unfortunately, is often a valid point. There are some truly abysmal programs out there. And even if the program is a good, helpful little tool, it doesn’t mean you would be prepared to spend £10 on it in a shop. However there are some absolute gems out there, like 7-zip for example. All I can say is, again, look for the big directories where the submissions are ranked. Look especially for the sites where users can leave their own feedback on a product, for example Game Hippo was a superb site for freeware games.
So what is the reason people make programs for free? The points above could explain it, to some extent. But that is not what freeware is really about. Freeware is about programmers wanting to share what they’ve created with the world at large, be it a useful tool, a kick-ass game or even a simple script. People who write freeware like to share what they’ve made, and maybe get some credit from the wider community for making something useful. So next time you find a useful piece of free software why not look through the about box to find out who made it. If they have a site then go visit, maybe leave a note in the guest book to encourage them to keep up the good work, to create more superb software. And you never know, the site may even contain that perfect piece of software you’ve been looking for.
by Daniel Robson